What do you think of when you hear the word “Thanksgiving”? I’m guessing that what comes to your mind is some combination of family, turkey, parades and football. Well, this year I did not spend Thanksgiving with my family. And while we did have a traditional turkey dinner, we did not see a single play of a football game. And there were no parades to be seen, no mention of Macy’s and no high school marching bands. This year, I spent the week of Thanksgiving in Nicaragua. I was traveling with a group of new friends for the purpose of visiting some orphanages there. New, because I did not know anyone from this group until just a couple weeks before the trip…and Friends because we shared an experience for the week that I will not soon forget. No, make that an experience that I’m quite certain I will never forget.
The group was representing the Fatherless Foundation and consisted of 7 of us; some directly linked to the foundation, others (like me) interested in learning about the culture of Nicaragua, in loving on these lost children, and hopefully in making a difference in some way. I left with the intention of holding some infants and playing with little toddlers. I believe that is the image that came to my mind when I heard the word orphans. I picture a home where kids had to go after losing their parents to some tragedy by accident, war, disease or the likes. I knew there would be a wide range of ages, but surely a large group of infants and toddlers that God would open my heart to. Afterall, they are the more helpless ones, right? Well, God did most definitely open my heart, but he maybe opened my eyes even more.
We visited a few different orphanages and I felt like we saw quite a broad range of living conditions. We visited places where we felt the kids were well cared for and had loving directors and we visited others where our group just felt a sense of uneasiness, that perhaps the kids were not getting all that they needed. This could be from too small of sleeping quarters to untidy eating areas to just locations that are so rural that getting visitors to come in and show these children some love and affection is a task in itself. But where God opened my eyes was not in the homes or the conditions, but in the children themselves. First of all, my inclination of how some of these children came to live in this home may have been inaccurate. Without going into great detail, let me just say that there is nothing traditional about how a child becomes homeless without a family to care for them. I was also surprised to find that the children were older, no babies or toddlers in the homes we visited. But what God showed me was a misconception that I had.
Though we visited a few orphanages, I would like to recount a few things from one orphanage in particular. I had a wonderful time at this place, playing with the kids and making connections with some of them. As anyone from our group would tell you, I really got close to two of the children. They were 9 and 10 years old and we played together and hugged each other and I really felt a connection. When we left the orphanage on the final day, the hugs were stronger and harder to release. I didn’t want to leave them and I don’t believe they wanted me to leave. Those moments will be etched on my heart forever. But it is a different moment that I noticed that I have not been able to get out of my mind since our return. A moment that I don’t believe anyone else in our group had the opportunity to notice.
Read the rest of Tony’s story here tomorrow…
originally published at the Fatherless Foundation